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The misconception with Czech short i and y

A common misconception among Czechs is that i and y are simply shorter variants of the long vowels í and ý (or vice versa), as is the case with the other long vowels, however this is not the case with y and i. It is actually a different vowel (as well as being short). I noticed that this misconception was repeated in the notes for the first skill in the Czech tree, and wanted to address it, mainly because it caused me so much confusion when I started learning Czech a couple of years ago, and want to save others from potentially going through the same, so here's what I discovered after a long time of being confused over the discrepancy between what I heard and what I was told about y and i.

the IPA symbol for the long í and ý is /i:/ with the colon marking that its long, while the IPA for the short y and i is /ɪ/. Note the different IPA symbol indicating a different vowel. This will be apparent if you pay close attention to words like "byt" and "být". On Wikipedia the following examples for each vowel sound is given

/ɪ/ klid, byl = the i in kid, /i:/ klít, být = the ea in cleat https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:IPA/Czech

Czech language is not a language where vowels are in focus, and so it is not super critical to get vowel sounds exactly right, as it appears to be mostly consonants and vowel length that are used to distinguish words from each other. I think it is for that reason, that this little misconception is prevalent. For any Czechs that read this and are about to protest, before you do so, please say some words containing long and short y and i out loud to yourself and listen carefully.

Here's an example of the word drahy and drahý from forvo in which the difference between y and ý is easy to hear. https://da.forvo.com/word/cs/%C4%8Desk%C3%A9_dr%C3%A1hy/#cs https://da.forvo.com/word/cs/drah%C3%BD/#cs

Sources: - IPA for Czech on Wikipedia (consistent with other sources) - 2 years of observation of czech speakers while living in Prague.

EDIT: Some people here claim that this is a Central Bohemian accent, while some Czech friends of mine agree that it is universal. Forvo has a feature that shows the location of the dialect and even when examining accents from other parts of The Czech Republic, the pronunciation of y/i remains the same, An example is this one which is placed in the easternmost part of CZ. https://da.forvo.com/word/cs/bou%C5%99ky/

September 5, 2017



The quality of I/Y and Í/Ý sounds is one of the ways the Czech regions differ, as others have stated. (I come from the mountains by the Polish border, and the quality of my I/Y vowels became a source of entertainment for my Prague girlfriend.)

For what it's worth, this T&N page was written by a U.S. native who managed to learn Czech as a foreign language very well. I felt no need to question his summary. If all of our learners reach his level, the course will have been successful beyond my wildest expectations.

That said, I adjusted the T&N as best I could. Please keep in mind that each T&N page is limited to 5000 characters including spaces, so there is only so much these dissertations can do to meet people's high expectations for completeness and accuracy. This particular T&N page is about two characters short of the limit.

And the effort may all be in vain because additional restrictions may be imposed on the T&N down the line to accommodate mobile devices. Beyond saying that the T&N are going mobile for sure, nobody will comment on the future constraints. We will presumably just have to start over. Why the !@#$ not.


Speaking of T&N for the first lesson, I noticed that it also claims that Czech and English h are pronounced the same.


Did you notice this?

The following guidelines are approximate.


That is consistent with what I had read before as well, and I was a bit disappointed to see the course notes claiming that how long a vowel is pronounced is the only distinction in Czech (implicitly including i, y versus í, ý).

I imagine that to a native speaker, the conversion is simply automatic, but to a learner, it's fairly important to realise this distinction, both in order to have a decent accent but also in order to understand Czech!

The short i vowel sometimes sound similar to e, especially if you're expecting short i to be [i].


Yes, I have the same feeling being a non native speaker and coming from romance languages this one of the many small details I was passing as beginner. Course is fresh and have a lot of space for improvement. krok za krokem.


"2 years of observation of czech speakers while living in Prague."

This course is supposed to teach Standard Czech, not "obecná čeština" as spoken in Prague. As far as I know, they ARE the same vowels in the standard language.

  • 1732

Exactly, standard Czech is standard Czech, and then there are tons of other versions with their own crazy characteristics.

For example someone who observed Czech in Ostrava or Opava would be claiming here that there are no long vowels at all :-)


I am happy to accept the correction that it is a bohemian feature, but in that case, I am surprised that 1) I have never heard other than bohemian czech, considering that Prague is full of people from all parts of Czech Republic ( I have friends from other parts) and 2) that the IPA phonetics on Wikipedia also is in agreement about this.

I will add a note about it in the post, either way.

  • 1732

Many people who move to Prague quickly adjust since they don't wanna be made fun of for how they sound :-) It's like moving to USA from Britain... You have two choices .. you can be "that English guy" or you can at least try to sound more American and blend with others.

No idea about that Wiki issue, perhaps it was done by someone (a foreigner) who lived in Prague? It's a public webpage edited by random people after all.


I have lived both Prague and Brno, with people from other regions , some Friends from Ostrava's influence sounds more like rappers as quick cut of the syllables, at lot of Prague (Central bohemian influence) were the opposite extending some sounds like singing. I like accents, slang words and some dialects made it more interesting. Some Brno slang word coming from German influence and so on. On every language there is a interpretation of standard :)


I do not want to bring more confusion here, I just would like to help with adding another opinion of a Czech native speaker:) I come from the north of Bohemia and live in Praque for 12 years.

I tried to compare some Czech and English words and according to me, Czech i/y is not comparable to English. For example

Czech word BYT does not have exactly the same pronunciation as English word BIT /bɪt/ - English ɪ is a little harder here.

Czech word BÝT is not pronounced the same way as English word BEAT /bi:t/. English i: is much softer here and the difference is quite considerable. On the other hand Czech ý is not as hard as long English ɪ would be.

I think that Czech i/y/í/ý are sort of inbetweeners.

[deactivated user]

    I first stumbled across this difference when I heard my teacher saying the word "tady" later on my first or second years. Then I confirmed it on wikipedia. I think it's a natural thing to start pronouncing both vowels exactly the same when you are a beginner and then begin to switch when you start listening. Maybe that's why for the first lesson they didn't make a reference to it, maybe just because it is for absolute beginners. It doesn't hurt for them to know it from the start though so thank you for your post.

    • 1732

    To observe Czech for two years in Prague would be very misleading, since to us non-Prague Czechs the way Prague (and central Bohemian) people speak just feels horrible. It is as far from standard Czech as it can be... especially when it comes to accent, over all melody of speaking and how they handle verbs and other words. Standard: "Nalil jsem vodu do horkého mléka". ... Prague And central Bohemian: "Nalil jsem vodu do horkýho mlíka". ... Not possible to capture the difference of pronunciation here obviously...

    That is not to say that other parts of the country speak better standard Czech... Where I live we practically speak half Slovak :-) And to Prague people me speaking my dialect would sound horrible of course. It just so happens that we realise more that our dialect is a dialect while "obecná čeština" is considered normal standard for many of its speakers...


    obecná čeština is not a different pronunciation. It is a (inter)dialect with its own grammar and it is a continuation of sound changes which happened in central areas of spoken Czech many hundred years ago. They were already appearing in literary Czech in the baroque period.

    In the 19th century they based the standard literary language on the higher-style Kralická bible and related authors (from the 16th and 17th century) which didn't include these changes. However, people mostly kept these changes.

    Under the influence of the codification even some original words started to change their shape towards the. conservative standard. Are you from the east? Do you say zítra and regard it as more correct? Isn't it strange that Slovak is zajtra? Zejtra is the original!!! Does Švejcar sound like a strange dialect to you? (it does to me) It is the original!!! It comes from Schweizer. Brejle was the standard form still in the first half of the 20th century.

    Saying that the pronunciation of Bohemian people is horrible is saying their dialect is horrible. It is a thing that mostly only people from the East say when they look at people from Bohemia from above. We don't say that about Moravian or Silesian dialects even though they preserve many archaic (middle aged Czech) artifacts or elements common to Slovak or Polish. We like them! They sometimes sound funny, but not "horrible". That is a very intolerant thing to say about other people's native dialect.

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